Senate joins push to freeze federal salaries

After approval in the House last week, the Senate in turn is considering a two-year freeze on federal employee pay.

Lawmakers on Tuesday introduced a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending package for fiscal 2011 that includes a provision to freeze federal civilian pay from Jan. 1, 2011, to Dec. 31, 2012. The House last week passed a continuing resolution to cap agency spending at fiscal 2010 levels and freeze civilian salaries for two years, in line with President Obama's Nov. 29 proposal to hold nonmilitary pay steady for 2011 and 2012.

The Senate omnibus, which combines all 12 annual appropriations bills, would alter spending levels for specific programs and includes member-directed funding, or earmarks. The House CR would freeze agency budgets and does not allow earmarks.

Senate appropriators set aside $1.35 billion for agencies to avoid furloughs or workforce reductions and to support programs deemed necessary, while House language would make funding available at Congress' discretion. As with the House bill, another provision would push forward Alaska and Hawaii's transition to separate locality pay areas as required under the 2009 Non-Foreign Area Retirement Equity Assurance Act.

The Senate bill would provide an additional $668 billion to the Defense Department, including $31.5 billion, or $526 million above the president's budget request, for health programs. The legislation would also grant $3.58 billion to the Homeland Security Department to fully fund 20,500 Border Patrol agents, more than double the number of personnel in 2004, and an additional $474 million to the Veterans Benefits Administration to manage its claims processing operations.

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